Advantages of raising children to be bilingual, multilingual

An increasing number of children raised in Arizona’s melting pot of culture and diversity grow up in dual-language households.

In recent years, the Center for Immigration Studies reports that nearly 30 percent of Arizona children and teens speak a language other than English at home. Many children navigate language fluidity as they communicate with individuals in and out of their home.

Children who learn multiple languages simultaneously are known as dual-language learners. Despite varying language groups, cultural backgrounds and family circumstances, children who are raised to be literate in multiple languages are likely to benefit from similar advantages.

While learning new languages is an achievable skill at any age, mastering multiple languages is a skill best learned from birth. It’s during the earliest years of life that rapidly developing brain connections form a child’s foundation for successful language, thinking and social skills. Children who learn multiple languages during the most critical years of brain development are more likely to later show proficiency in varying areas.

Potential benefits range from advanced linguistic, cognitive and social-emotional skills. Improved communication skills of dual-language learners extends far beyond simply being able to read, write and speak in more than one language. Research shows that children who are exposed to more than one language are more likely to be able to take on the perspective of a speakers intended meaning. Dual-language learners have the capability of comprehending social situations from a unique perspective that allows them to better understand others from both a verbal, cultural and social perspective.

The benefits of bilingualism and multilingualism in young children have long been observed, but have not scientifically tested until recent years. Now, a combination of neuroimaging techniques and scientific studies can provide unique insight into language processing of infants and toddlers. A Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences study gives a glimpse into the minds of 7-month-old infants raised learning two languages. Bilingual infants studied show improved cognitive skills, in comparison with their monolingual counterparts.

In addition to cognitive advantages, dual-language learners have a special opportunity to forge a relationship with their family’s heritage. Language fluidity allows family interactions to transcend the surface, diving deeper into meaning and understanding. Because of this connection and appreciation, dual language learners are better able to maintain strong ties with their family, culture and community.

 

All content in this article, including any advice or commentary from Southwest Human Development staff and/or others, should be considered an opinion and is provided for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for medical or other professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the direct advice of your own trusted professional with any questions or concerns you may have regarding the child/ren in your care. Southwest Human Development does not recommend or endorse any specific tests, products, procedures or other information that may be mentioned in this article. You may contact Southwest Human Development’s Birth to Five Helpline at 1-877-705-KIDS (5437) to speak with one of our early childhood professionals for personalized assistance. Birth to Five Helpline specialists are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.